Brazil investigates death of former president

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Associated Press

Posted on January 23, 2013 at 1:03 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jan 23 at 4:33 PM

SAO PAULO (AP) — Brazil's Truth Commission, which is investigating human rights abuses committed during the nation's military dictatorship, said Wednesday it's looking into the death of former President Juscelino Kubitschek, who died in a 1976 car accident.

Over the years, some prominent Brazilian officials have said they suspect that the death of Kubitschek, who oversaw the creation of his nation's new capital city, Brasilia, in the early 1960s, was a set-up ordered by the military regime.

A Truth Commission official said by telephone the investigation into Kubitschek's death began late last year after the bar association of Minas Gerais state delivered a report saying his death was ordered by Brazil's 1964-1985 military regime.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak to the press about the investigation, which surfaced in Brazil's press on Wednesday. She said the commission will only provide further details after it concludes its investigation.

Kubitschek was a centrist who opposed the military coup and hoped to run again for president in 1965. He was president from 1956 to 1961, a time of economic expansion for the South American nation.

One of the leader's slogans was "50 years of progress in five" and he hoped to quickly develop Brazil's vast interior region by moving the capital from Rio de Janeiro to Brasilia, a city he had built from the ground up on Brazil's central savannah.

In 2000, then-Rio de Janeiro state Gov. Leonel Brizola said the crash that killed Kubitschek was a set up and part of Operation Condor, a continentwide campaign of political killings and torture.

Created last year, the Truth Commission does not specify who should be targeted by its investigations. It does not have powers to prosecute anyone because of a 1979 amnesty law that released civilians and the military from liability for politically motivated crimes committed during the dictatorship. It could, however, reveal the abuses and the names of those who committed them.

Unlike Argentina, Chile and Uruguay, which also had repressive military regimes, Brazil has never punished military officials accused of human rights abuses.

Separately on Wednesday, the Organization of American States said it has begun investigating the dictatorship-era death of noted journalist Brazilian Vladimir Herzog, who was tortured and killed while being held by the regime.

The Brazil office of the Center for Justice and International Law, a Washington-based human rights advocacy group, said in an emailed statement that the OAS's Inter-American Commission on Human Rights will investigate the 1975 murder of Vladimir Herzog while in an army jail in Sao Paulo.

The army said at the time Herzog had been detained because he was suspected of "subversive" activities and that he committed suicide by hanging himself with his belt.

Herzog's death provoked indignation high command of the armed forces and started the gradual dismantling of the military regime then in power.

Phone calls and emails to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights went unanswered. However, in a November report posted on its website, it confirmed it accepted a request to investigate the Herzog case.

The request was presented by the Archdiocese of Sao Paulo, Torture Never Again, a Rio de Janeiro human rights activist group, and Sao Paulo's Inter-American Foundation for the Defense of Human Rights.

In 1996, the government assumed responsibility for Herzog's death and paid compensation to his family. But, it said that those responsible for his death could not be punished because they were protected by the Amnesty Law.

Herzog's son, Ivo told reporters that the OAS investigation shows "justice is possible."

"If those responsible cannot be arrested that does not mean that society cannot know who they were and condemn them morally," he said.

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